We went along to the Raffles on Tuesday to have a look at the changes and a spot of lunch. The hotel was taken on by Colonial Leisure Group in 2014 and has been considerably revamped – bright white walls, interesting light fittings, modern furniture and all very open and well lit looking out onto the beer garden above the river.
The garden would be a great place to sit and sip although the day we went along it was very hot and so we headed indoors – as did most of the other customers save for a couple of hardy souls.
We had come by train and after hopping off at Canning Bridge we trudged through the desert that passes for landscaping in the minds of the MRD and local council; thankfully we made it and headed into the air conditioned comfort of the pub. We were shown to a table for two in the lower area of the main bar and settled in to look over the menu and wine list.
The drinks list is extensive with a brilliant range of wines, carefully selected showing no signs of just being flung together without thought as seems often the case in some places these days. I was particularly interested to see a couple of wines on tap (!) – from very good producers at that – Howard Park in case of the Riesling and Woodlands for the red blend. A large range of beer and cider, together with classic cocktails – bellini and negroni for example – plus an excellent choice of whisky rounded out an impressive list.
I couldn’t resist trying the tap wine – the riesling was zingy with lots of lemony citrus notes, good acid and altogether very refreshing.
Lady FWO went, as so often is the case, for rosé – but unfortunately both of those listed were absent without leave – perhaps a run on them over the Australia Day long weekend? So somewhat disconsolately she plumped for a glass of sparkling from Dunes and Green – this chardonnay and pinot noir blend from South Australia has lifted lemon notes on the nose and a creamy citrusy palate with good acid – a nice aperitif.
The menu is divided into small plates, big plates, pizza, pans, grills, salads and sides. Small plates included oysters, tuna crudo and pork and fennel meatballs; the bigger plates fish and chips, veal parmigiana and pork belly; pans were made up of pasta dishes – spaghetti and meatballs; duck pappardelle- risotto and polenta; and the grill, fish, steak and chicken. Various salads and pizzas made up the rest.
Initially we were somewhat disconcerted by the size of the mains served up to a couple sitting near us – the fish and chips was a very large serving but paled in comparison to the pork belly – it looked as if most of the pig had turned up – they gallantly ploughed on but even though he was a solid chap the pork defeated him – but apparently it was a pretty good meal – very soft, tender and rich.
So taking the portion sizes into account – and remembering Lady FWO’s ambition to wear a certain dress to our daughter’s wedding in April – we decided to have a small plate to share – garlic prawns – and one big plate – roasted barramundi – and finally a pan dish- prawn tortellini.
Thankfully the dishes we chose were not of the same gargantuan size as the others we saw and we able to happily account for most of them.
Garlic prawns were served in the obligatory cast iron bowl, the prawns were very well cooked, plump, moist, tender, and the accompanying garlic and chilli oil provided a spicy zing without overpowering the seafood. It was a serving just about right for two with some crusty bread to mop up the juices.
The house made tortellini was outstanding – cooked al dente and stuffed with juicy, moist prawn meat, enhanced by a dressing of chilli, lemon and parsley with prawn oil drizzled over.
It was a beautifully flavoursome dish, extremely well cooked and given a wonderful spicy lift by the chilli.
Barramundi, pan roasted, crisp skinned with delightfully soft, juicy flesh, was served with a mild peperonata and over zucchini strips. It demonstrated good seafood skills in the kitchen – barra being a soft fleshed fish can often be overcooked to the point of almost dissolving – not so here; it was very good, indeed.
With our mains we decided on a medium bodied red – 2013 Vinteloper Urban Winery Project Red #1 from South Australia. This wine was made in a pop-up urban winery in Adelaide from a blend of six grape varieties. It has lifted plum and berry aromas and sour cherry, dark plum and earthy notes on the palate – it stood up well to the spicy components of our meals.
After sitting back to finish the wine we were tempted by the charming waiter to try a dessert and went for two scoops of gelato – one of basil and lemon and one of vanilla; both were delightful – the lemon and basil particularly so with strong lemon flavours intermingled with the herby vegetable tones provided by the basil; cold, refreshing and I am sure good for us too!
The recent lycra ban didn’t seem to have affected patronage – the place was filling nicely by the time we were eating our meals – inside anyway; outside not so much, but it was a stinking hot day. I guess, like me, people are heartily sick of looking at hollow-chested blokes with sagging nether regions prancing around in their skin tight bike shorts imagining they are Cadel Evans when the rest of us are just trying to eat. Good rule – needs more places to bring it in.
The Raffles serves up well cooked gastro-pub food in an upmarket setting; the staff friendly, enthusiastic and welcoming; and the beer garden will be a highlight – particularly in the evenings, sitting out looking over the river. We do recommend a visit.